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In Focus: Learning to Lead During LeadershipWEEK

Spring brings flowers, robins, and two very special Crittenton girl-centered events.  First, is the annual 3 day Leadership Academy, where Crittenton facilitators take girls through intensive learning exercises centered on leadership and professionalism.  Second is the Talk with a Teen Girl Today High Tea, an exciting mix of business leaders, educational supporters, professionals of all stripes, and Crittenton girls and their proud parents.  The Tea is a forum for intergenerational conversations about what’s important to teen girls, and how the adults attending the Tea surmounted life’s obstacles to reach their professional career goals. These two events – the Leadership Academy and the Tea – will bookend a new Crittenton initiative, its first annual LeadershipWEEK.  From April 21st - 27th, the focus will be on empowering Crittenton girls to use their leadership and advocacy skills to work with other girls in their communities. 

JessieJessie with a Spanish-speaking SNEAKERS groupCrittenton’s Jessica Moore-Solórzano, co- chair of LeadershipWEEK, shared with us her perspective on how Crittenton girls can become leaders of their own lives and advocate for all girls. “I believe all our girls have leadership potential,” she says. “We can unlock that potential by bringing out their aspirations and dreams within the context of their own self-worth.  Once the girls see what they are capable of in life, they develop naturally into leaders among their peers and in their communities.”Jessie knows how to do that.  For the past nine years, she has served as a Senior Program Facilitator for Advancing Positive Youth Development programs at Crittenton, leading in-school groups in both Spanish and English across the Greater Washington Area. Utilizing her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Maryland, she integrates the concept of leadership into her SNEAKERS groups throughout the school year. “For me, a leader is someone who radiates confidence and passion for what she/he cares about. Great leaders are perpetually hopeful and are not afraid to live with purpose,” Jessie tells me. “My mom is a leader who has inspired me throughout my career. She’s a phenomenal woman, inspiring leader, mentor, and role model. She instilled the love of learning and appreciation for health education and community work since I was very young.”

Jessie emphasizes that it is trust that unlocks her ability to respond so effectively to the girls in her programs. Once trust is a given – once the girls trust their leaders and peers – they start to experience personal growth in all kinds of ways.  She creates opportunities for each girl to lead activities and get others in the group to engage in discussions.  Activities include leading icebreakers, pair-think-share activities and other activities that appear to the girls as games, but in reality are a way to transmit important curriculum content. “When we plan service projects, girls are asked to participate in small groups and each group chooses a spokesperson to report on planning/progress/completion of the project. They problem-solve, challenge, and encourage each other.”  In this way, girls gradually build up confidence in themselves and learn a great deal about who they are and what the future can hold for them. 

Jessie2Jessie with a SNEAKERS Year 2 groupIn collaboration with program facilitator Nikole Donovan, Jessie’s last official Crittenton duties will be inaugurating the LeadershipWEEK. After that significant achievement, Jessie will become a Program Advisor within the Office of the Dean in the University of Maryland School of Public Health - a position she says that her nine years at Crittenton have made her uniquely qualified for. “My job will be to support students in recognizing and achieving their educational goals within the field of public health.  I look forward to helping students recognize their strengths and interests,” she says.  How is she going to do that?  She tells me that her love for Crittenton’s girls will readily translate into her relationship with her new student charges.  Using the same strength-based approach that has brought her success throughout her career to date, she will offer targeted programs to promote positive outcomes for all students.

Spend a few minutes with Jessie, and her professional philosophy becomes as startlingly clear as it is simple:  all people have the ability to fulfill their greatest potential - they just need the right resources, leaders, and mentors to help them get to that point.